Frederik Pohl (1919-2013)

Frederik Pohl in 2008.

Frederik Pohl in 2008.

Frederik Pohl died September 2, his daughter Emily Pohl-Weary has announced on Twitter.  He was 93.

He spent the last several years of his life writing The Way the Future Blogs, fashioning the pieces from which a new volume of his memoirs might be made — in the meantime so charming the latest generation of science fiction fans with his anecdotes from the genre’s golden age that he was voted a Best Fan Writer Hugo in 2010.

Pohl himself had started out in sf as a teenaged fan – not without controversy, for he was one of the six Futurians who were thrown out of the First Worldcon in 1939. The scales of justice would balance later when he was named guest of honor at the 1972 Worldcon, L.A.Con I.

Pohl was also one of the field’s youngest prozine editors, from 1939 to 1943 running Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories.

He served in World War II as an air corps weatherman, mainly in Italy.

After the war he ran the genre’s leading literary agency – yet it was not financially successful. He closed it down in the early 1950s and went back to writing full time.

He co-founded the Hydra Club in 1947, a regular gathering of New York’s sf pros.

A satire written in collaboration with Cyril M. Kornbluth, The Space Merchants (1953), was one of his most noted works in this period. They followed in 1955 with Gladiator-at-Law.

In the 1960s Pohl became one of the field’s most important editors. His Galaxy and If won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Magazine in 1966, 1967 and 1968.

Resuming his writing career in the 1970s, he penned such renowned novels as Man Plus (1977 Nebula), Gateway (1978 Hugo and Nebula), and Jem. Beyond the Blue Event Horizon followed in the 1980s. He also won a Hugo for his 1985 short story “Fermi and Frost.”

Pohl was President of the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1974.

He earned many lifetime achievement honors  — Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1998, Living Inductee), SFWA Grand Master Award (1993), Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award (2013, distinguished service), Eaton Award (Lifetime Achievement, 2009), Forry Award (lifetime achievement, voted by LASFS, 1994), Milford Award (1995, lifetime achievement),  Prix Utopia (2000, lifetime achievement), Skylark Award (1966, given by NESFA), Writers and Illustrators of the Future (2000, lifetime achievement)

He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Anne Hull, Ph.D.

[Thanks to Lloyd Penney and Taral Wayne for the story.]

Update 09/03/2013: Corrected link to 1939 Worldcon story per comment.

8 thoughts on “Frederik Pohl (1919-2013)

  1. Sad news. I thought of him as always spry and vigorous, thanks to the intelligence and humor of his blog. He was editing Galaxy and If when I first became aware of science fiction as kid, and his death takes away one more piece of the human landscape that I grew up with.

    For some reason, the first novel of his that comes to mind is Cool War, which posits that the Cold War has been secretly heating up, but only a little. It’s not his strongest novel in science fictional terms, but the Universalist-Unitarian minister who is the book’s protagonist seemed sharply drawn and sympathetically drawn.

  2. Reading his blog, the sharpness of his insights and the wit of his political commentary made me hope and expect he’d live to see 100, at least. I’m glad he was going strong to the end, but it just seems like he had so much more left to write, so much more left to tell us. This is a loss for literature, for science fiction, and for science fiction fandom that can never be replaced.

    Like so many of his books, The Cool War is one that came true in some subtle and unexpected ways. Of all SF writers, Pohl might have been the best at extrapolating a plausible (and sometimes deeply unsettling) future from present-day trends. SF always takes a bum rap for failing to do that well, but sometimes he did it really well. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen something in the news and thought “this is like something out of a Fred Pohl story” or “this is exactly what Fred Pohl predicted in that one book.” For all these decades that guy was explaining our world to us and letting us know what to expect…and now he won’t do it anymore, damn it.

  3. Thanks for noticing the problem with the link — the main post now uses yours.

    The online Fancy 3 article needs a tiny bit of editing. Arthur C. Clarke was the only GoH at the 1956 Worldcon. But Al Capp was another of the banquet speakers. As you know, this event was the source of the fannish catchphrase “Dave Kyle says you can’t sit here.” The version of Dick Eney’s original story quoted in The Canadian Fancyclopedia is clearer —

    One of those fannish legends. At the 1956 NYCon II Worldcon, fans who refused to pay $7.10 for the banquet (outrageous price back then), yet wanted to hear the after-dinner speakers, especially the keynote speaker, cartoonist Al Capp of ‘Li’l Abner’ fame, hung around in the hall outside the banquet room. The Worldcon chair, Dave Kyle, ordered the banquet room doors closed on the grounds that only those who had paid for the event should take part.
    Determined fans including Canada’s Boyd Raeburn (faned of ‘A BAS’), as well as prominent US fans like Bob Tucker, Dick Eney and Ted White, flooded up a stairwell and crowded into a balcony overlooking the banquet. They became somewhat unruly when volunteer gopher Sheldon B. Deretchin came up and up and shouted “Dave Kyle says you can’t sit here.” Finally everyone was ushered off the balcony by house detectives, presumably at Kyle’s bidding. This was motivation enough to reappear on the balcony during the convention business session and heckle the convention committee, (hence the term ‘balcony insurgents’).
    For years afterwards “Dave Kyle says you can’t sit here” was a catchphrase often printed in fanzines. Meanwhile the number of fans claiming to have been among the ‘balcony insurgents’ grew exponentially. In the 1990s, writing in an article in ‘MIMOSA’, Kyle revealed he had been ordered by a fire marshal to clear the balcony. (DE) & (Dick Ellington)

  4. I have told Dave Kyle, on at least one occasion, “I’m sorry. You can’t sit there.”
    He laughed, which was the reaction I had hoped for.

    I restrained myself two days ago, when Dave was sitting offstage at the Hugo ceremony, waiting to present the First Fandom and Big Heart awards.

  5. At the Millennium PhilCon, Ed Meskys was attending a panel Dave Kyle was on. Meskys wanted to know if he could sit in the front row by the aisle so his seeing-eye dog could rest comfortably. I asked Kyle, he said it was all right.

    Then I told Meskys, “Dave Kyle says you can sit here.”

    My wife was watching him and she said that if looks could kill . . .

  6. When I visited the set of the original Battlestar: Galactica in December 1978, there was a folded card sign on the seat of the command chair which read simply “Don’t sit here.” (Visitors always want to sit in the command chair when visiting Bridge sets. then something gets broken on them and an entire production day can be lost while the problem is diagnosed and fixed.)

    So I always told people that when I visited the Galactica, I saw a sign reading “Commander Adama says you can’t sit here.”

    As for Fred Pohl I am stunned and shocked. In the last several years we’ve lost Gordon Dickson, Poul Anderson, Bob Tucker, Jack Haldeman, Cele Goldsmith, Catherine & L. Sprague de Camp, andrew j. offutt, Jack Chalker, Julius Schwartz, Isaac Asimov, Jeanne Robinson, Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler, F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, Thomas Disch. And many, many others as well.

    The writers I grew up with, the stars in my literary firmament, are blinking out, one by one. It’s the entropic heat death of my science fiction writer universe. I die a little bit every time one of them dies. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to cope each time.

  7. Dave: Be Content. As you are a survivor and will watch other pass through this life. I met some of these folks, miss some of the people you mention, I miss many more you do not know. Some of them deserved a bit more praise than was given, others went too quickly before thank yous could be said.

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